Today is Yom HaShoah, which is Holocaust Remembrance Day. Like Memorial Day, it is a very somber and important day. To mark the day, there are ceremonies throughout the country, and a siren is sounded for 2 min. Everything comes to a halt for those 2 minutes. It is a very meaningful moment in time.
This year Yom Hashoah has been more meaningful for me than in years past. It has always been a day with mixed emotions for me. I am horrified by the things that the Nazis did, and I am saddened by the loss of so many. At the same time, I am proud of the strength and courage of so many who survived and who helped others survived. The Holocaust represents the worst and best of humanity.
Mixed in with all of these emotions is a tinge of guilt. Unlike so many, I cannot tell stories of brave family members who survived or who lost their lives. My maternal grandfather and his family lived in Germany. They lived on a farm close to the French border, so they were a bit removed from all the happenings in the cities. My grandfather said that things were bad well before the world really knew about it. Seeing that things weren’t going to get better, all of his family including his 8 siblings and his parents, got out of Germany. Most of them went to America, including him. One of his brothers went to South Africa. My grandfather joined the army to help with the war effort. He was a cook in the Philippines. I have a shell that I wear as a necklace that he brought back from that time.
In some senses, when I feel guilty, I am feeling a small bit of survivor’s guilt. Why should my family have been saved when so many died? I have no control over what happened, and feeling guilty isn’t going to change anything. All I can do is support the people who did lose family, and I can help people remember what happened so that it never happens again. Plus, I should be proud of my family. My maternal grandfather came to America, established himself, and has left behind two children, five grandchildren, and almost six great grandchildren (my cousin is pregnant!). If you look at the descendants of the family, we have done pretty well.
Also worth being proud of is the fact that my paternal grandfather was part of an army unit that liberated one of the camps. I never can remember which one but it doesn’t matter. He fought for his country and for his people and that is what matters most.
These emotions that I have are the same as every year. What has been different this year is the fact that I have been coming in contact with more survivors or descendants of survivors in my everyday life. I am not listening to stories told at an organized program, but am listening to stories told by people that I meet on a daily basis. Adina’s pediatrician is a child survivor. Our good friend’s grandmother was a survivor. Lots of people in Israel are survivors or are descendants of survivors. It shouldn’t be super surprising. After all, many people came here after the war to start over. Israel is the land of the Jews. Where better to start over after the Holocaust?
While listening to the stories of other families, a recurring idea has arisen. Children are the best revenge on the Nazis. When our pediatrician told us that he was a survivor he didn’t spend time telling us the details of what happened to him. Instead, he showed us a picture of his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. With a big smile he told us that they are around 70 in total. My good friend showed me a book that was made based on an exhibit that her cousin made. Her cousin, who is a photographer, took pictures of all of the descendants of the three sisters who survived Auschwitz, and one brother that survived out in the woods. The focus of the book was on their descendants and how eclectic they are. We always say that the best thing we can do is remember, but in fact the best thing we can do is grow as a people. We need to remember those that were lost while we continue to exist. We need to live.
As the siren sounded this morning, I stood next to Adam while he held Adina in his arms. I couldn’t help thinking of all the little children that were murdered in cold blood by the Nazis. I couldn’t help thinking about how lucky I am that my family escaped. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t be here, and Adina wouldn’t be here either. She is my light, my revenge on those that said that we should not exist. We do, we will, always.
Never forget, never again…